No bells and whistles

Main Street’s latest restaurant combines well-prepared food, thoughtful service and a social ethic in a minimalist approach

Caroline Wintoniw

Lunch Bell Bistro opened a few months ago on the ground floor of Main Street’s Bell Hotel Supportive Housing Complex, between Higgins and Logan Ave. The small diner’s staffed mostly by people living with cognitive and developmental disabilities. Press coverage was initially sparse. But as Josh Marantz, the restaurant’s general manager, welcomes us at into the nearly empty spot on a snowy Wednesday, he informs us that it’s one of the slowest days in memory.

The rapid increase in popularity is well-justified. There’s nothing overly flashy about Lunch Bell Bistro: it’s a well-lit, clean venue featuring prompt and kind service. A partially enclosed roof built from a raw pine creates an open vibe, complementing the white walls and wide windows. Frank, one of the servers, swiftly seats the three of us, filling water glasses and telling us the specials for the day (black bean meat chilli with a roll and salad for $10, or cream of mushroom soup for $5).

Marantz, the amicable manager, wanders over to recommend the Baron’s Court Burger ($7 with bacon and cheese for an extra $1-an-item) and the Basil Street Roasted Chicken sandwich ($8). After a few minutes, we decide to go with both of Marantz’s recommendations (the latter paired with a house salad in a combo for $8), in addition to a Greenwhich Garden Wrap with creamy mushroom soup combo (also $8). Veggie options are unfortunately sparse. But the menu, while limited, offers much for the omnivore.

Coffee and pop’s available, but we stick with water. Soft music plays as we wait 15 minutes for the food. The atmosphere’s pleasant, and pretty perfect for hanging with friends on an early afternoon. The three dishes arrive on spotless white plates. The presentation’s minimalist and effective; a ramekin of coleslaw sits in the middle of the two offerings of the combo, which arrive on an unconventional rectangular plate.

The food’s really quite good. The veggie wrap is tragically small but packed with flavour: roasted squash, sweet peppers, garlic, onion and yam interact delicately. It’s a surprisingly filling side. The soup’s an excellent pairing, with the caramelized onions pairing well with the plethora of mushrooms. My pals were delighted by the meaty options. The burger was a fine size, with the cheese and bacon adding plenty. The sizeable Kaiser bun didn’t overwhelm the flavourful patty. A side salad would’ve been a nice addition.

There’s a generous spreading of the basil aioli on the baguette. Unfortunately, the amount of chicken was lacking. There could’ve been a bit more of the dressing, as well as a touch more seasoning (Yellow Dog’s house salad sets a high bar). But the presence of fresh spinach, scallions and tomatoes suffices. The three of us stuck around a while after 2 p.m. - Lunch Bell’s closing time - but we never felt rushed out. The spot will long serve as a solid option for downtown eats and catering, as well as demonstrating an admirable commitment to quality and equality.

Lunch Bell Bistro is located on 662 Main Street, and is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Published in Volume 69, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 26, 2014)

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